By JAIME STUDD
Recorder News Staff
Hundreds of area residents gathered in the West End Sunday morning to pay tribute to local veterans at Amsterdam's annual Veterans Day Parade and Ceremony.
The Veterans Day festivities began with a parade down Guy Park Avenue, from Henrietta Street to the West End memorial. Led by representatives from both the Amsterdam police and fire departments, and moving forward to the beat of the Amsterdam High School marching band, marchers included representatives from the American Legion Post 701, the Sons of the American Legion and the Polish American Veterans Club.
Other participants included the Tribes Hill, Fort Johnson and Hagaman volunteer fire departments, as well as local officials such as Mayor Ann Thane, 5th Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero and U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam.
Retired U.S. Army serviceman Gregory Melita served as the Grand Marshal.
The procession concluded with a somber service at the city's West End memorial, where parade participants, proud veterans and a thankful community paused to both honor and celebrate Amsterdam's heroes.
The ceremony featured several military traditions, including a rifle salute and the playing of taps.
Following an invocation delivered by Veterans Commission Member Master Sgt. Dave Gomula, and a pledge of allegiance led by Leggiero, the speaking portion of the morning's program commenced.
Words of praise and appreciation were delivered by special guest speaker, Brigadier Gen. Donald DeVito, Thane and Tonko.
Thane reflected on the sacrifices made by American soldiers and the willingness with which they serve.
"I cannot ever know what a soldier knows," Thane said. "I cannot know the weight and force of the resolution to serve, to leave family and community for a higher purpose. A soldier sacrifices comfort, safety and autonomy for the comfort, safety and freedom of those they love and those in need.
"To each veteran that stands here today, under the heavy sky and waving flag, our words are not enough," she added. "Know, as only a soldier can know, that you have our deepest respect and gratitude and love."
Tonko reminded the crowd of the critical needs of veterans, saying that ensuring that veterans have access to educational, health, housing and employment services upon their return home is a reflection of our commitment to honor their sacrifice.
"We commit to their efforts by resolving that they will never be forgotten," Tonko said.
"We thank you for being the muscle behind our fight to save our freedoms and protect our freedoms," he added.
Tonko also encouraged the veterans in attendance Sunday to take part in the Veteran's History Project, a program being coordinated through the Library of Congress designed to document and record the stories and lessons shared by veterans.
"These are stories that need to be told and documented," Tonko said. "So that we can understand through the eyes and the voices of veterans themselves exactly what that experience was.
"Let's call to mind the greatness of our veterans who have produced the greatness of America," he added.
Sunday's ceremony also included the awarding of Amsterdam service awards to Master Sgt. David J. Gomula and Technical Sgt. Anthony D. Leggiero.
Gomula served in the Army, Air National Guard and the Naval Reserves from 1961 through 1994.
"Master Sgt. Gomula's devotion to duty, skill and leadership are in keeping with the highest traditions of the Armed Forces of the United States and reflect great credit on him, the military and naval services and the city of Amsterdam," said Amsterdam City Historian, Lt. Col. Robert von Hasseln in awarding Gomula his Veteran Service Medal.
A Veteran Service Medal was also given to Leggiero, who has served in both the United States Air Force and the Air National Guard since 1991.
Von Hasseln noted that Leggiero had the distinction of being the first upstate New York medic to serve in Afghanistan.
Von Hasseln also cited Leggiero's decorations as including the Air Force Aerial Achievement medal, the Humanitarian Service Award and the New York State Senate Liberty Medal.
Among those in attendance on Sunday was Amsterdam resident Rose Takacs. Adorned entirely in red, white and blue, Takacs spent the majority of the service standing quietly to the side and gripping a photograph of her grandson, Jose, who his currently stationed in Germany.
Her first time attending Amsterdam's annual Veterans Day services, Takacs said she was there to honor not only her grandson and her husband, who served in the Navy, but "all the men and women who are fighting."
"I'm very thankful," Takacs said. "And I'm very thankful I was here today."